Thursday, November 26, 2009

CityWatchLA - City Hall Red Tape Trumps Citizen’s Green Vision-Part II

CityWatch, Nov 27, 2009
Vol 7 Issue 97

City Council President Eric Garcetti is raising eyebrows as he tosses obstacle after obstacle at Hollywood's proposed car-share program, only to have reality contradict his objections.

Bechir Blagui, the operator of Hollywood Rent A Car, went to City Council last week to ask for help in establishing an electric car charging station on Hollywood Boulevard, located at a dedicated parking space, that would support his proposed electric car-share program along with the electric cars of those in the community.

Garcetti responded to Blagui's request for help by offering moral support tempered by the admonition that state law regulated the establishment of electric charging stations on the street. He offered to work together with Bechir to change the vehicle code and to make it happen. "That's why we're here!"

A visit to Montana Avenue in Santa Monica yielded the discovery of two electric charging stations, positioned on the sidewalk and supported by dedicated parking spaces, all in direct contradiction to Garcetti's "state regulated" reality and his claim of the need for a change to the law.

When a photo of the Montana Avenue charging stations was forwarded to Garcetti, he responded, "This is a great example of a public charger on the street (I've used it many times!). This is an open-to-the-public example (different than a dedicated space for an individual business), but a great example that it can be done."

What happened to the "Let's work together to change State Law!" objection?

Meanwhile, Assemblyman Mike Feuer's Transportation Deputy responded to Garcetti's "state law" objection by saying "I checked with our legislative director in Sacramento and he does not know of any such legislation."

Garcetti's "it can be done" affirmation came on the tail end of a revised objection, claiming Bechir's request was for a "dedicated space for an individual business." Bechir responded by pointing out that his request was not for an exclusive space but for an open charging station, accessible to the public. Either way, it turned out to be irrelevant.

A visit to Adams Boulevard just north of USC yielded the discovery of two parking spaces, on the street, empty and supported by signage that indicated they were for the exclusive use of the ZipCar Company, all in direct contradiction to Garcetti's ""individual business" reality and the need to maintain "open-to-the-public" parking.

There are approximately a dozen parking spaces in the USC neighborhood and approximately a dozen more in the UCLA neighborhood, all designated as ZipCar spaces and supported by Tow Away signs.

The parking spaces are in densely populated areas where parking is at a premium, most are on the street while some are on school property and some are in City controlled parking structures.

The City's ability to offer dedicated parking spaces for car-share programs is supported by State Law that went into effect on January 1, 2007. California Vehicle Code Section 5205.5 specifies that cities have the authority to reserve public, on-street parking spaces for the exclusive use of vehicles participating in a car-share vehicle program.

Bechir's quest for a Hollywood car-share program, offering electric community cars, supported by a charging station on Hollywood Boulevard, open to the public and accessible 24 hours a day, has led him to the LADOT, the DWP, Councilman LaBonge's office, City Council President Eric Garcetti's office, Assemblyman Mike Feuer's office, the City Council, the streets of Santa Monica, the neighborhoods surrounding USC and UCLA and all he has to show for his travails is a request from Garcetti's Transportation Deputy to do more research for a meeting next month.

Why is it so difficult to get support for a car-share program in Hollywood? Does the City of Los Angeles have an exclusive deal with ZipCar?

Just last year, Mayor Villaraigosa announced a partnership with ZipCar and gushed "Los Angeles may be the car capital of the world, but through this partnership among universities, ZipCar and the City of Los Angeles we are opening the door to make car ownership optional for people who live or work here."

"Providing alternatives to car ownership will help improve the environment and the city's traffic congestion," Villaraigosa said.

Unfortunately, ZipCar is only interested in offering cars in the USC and UCLA areas and the maximum number of vehicles was projected to be less than two dozen in a city of four million people.

It has been over two years since the City of Los Angeles authorized the LADOT to solicit car-share companies to participate in a "one-year car-sharing pilot in the City of Los Angeles."

In the letter that went to the "big four" car-share companies, the city claimed the right "to grant exclusive car-sharing service rights to a single provider or non-exclusive rights to several providers in each pilot area depending on the level of interest in each area."

At first pass, there were no takers but a second effort yielded the ZipCar company and a thin commitment of 20 vehicles, located at USC and UCLA. The pilot program was initially scheduled to start in mid-February 2008 and was projected to last for one-year.

If ZipCar is only interested in providing car-share services to the USC and UCLA neighborhoods, is the City of LA "holding" the Hollywood neighborhood and considering offering it as an exclusive territory to a car-share company?

Is the LADOT relying on City Attorney advice that the City of Los Angeles can "sole source a contract for car-sharing service" as it conducts the "pilot project" at USC and UCLA?

Does the USC/UCLA project prevent car-share programs from being implemented in other areas of the city?

Perhaps the City of Los Angeles is waiting for the W Hotel and Residences on Hollywood Boulevard to open. Several years ago, during the community outreach phase of the project, locals were assured that traffic mitigation measures such as a car-share program and a bike-share facility were to be incorporated into the development.

Of course, that was during the "courting" phase, now that construction is nearing completion, one must take those early "promises" with a grain of salt.

Maybe Garcetti is holding Hollywood's car-share program in reserve for the Clarret Group's Blvd 6200 Project. Two years ago, in an interview with The Planning Report, Garcetti gushed, "This is a very important development for Hollywood. It is probably the largest residential development that I’ll work on in my time."

Garcetti apparently negotiated a $2 million Clarett contribution to the Hollywood Mobility Trust Fund along with a commitment to host a car-share program on Hollywood Boulevard.

Whatever the explanation, the people of Los Angeles deserve straight talk and real solutions, not false obstacles and the run-around.

(Stephen Box is a transportation advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

LA Bike Plan - Round 1 to Bike Activists

Jane Blumenfeld, Acting Deputy Director for the Los Angeles Department of City Planning, has announced that the City Planning staff will be taking comments on the Draft Bicycle Plan until January 8th, 2010. This is a significant victory for the bike activists who immediately reacted when the Draft Bike Plan was initially released with a November 6, 2009 deadline for comments.

As recently as November 4 at the Eastside Bike Plan Workshop hosted by Councilman Ed Reyes and the Bike Oven, City staff were passing out comment cards that specified the November 6, 2009 deadline. Blumenfeld has all along acknowledged that the City of LA would take comments but the issue raised was that there is a big difference between "accepting" comments and "incorporating" comments.

The extension of the comment period to January 8, 2010 comes with the assurance that comments will be incorporated into a "revised" Draft Bike Plan that will be released in February of 2010 and that the community will then have two more months to review the Bike Plan before City Planning holds two public hearings on behalf of the City Planning Commission.

For many bike activists, the single greatest flaw in the Draft Bike Plan was the exclusion of the public in the process. Neighborhood Councils around the city took the Department of Transportation and City Planning to task for releasing the $450K Bike Plan with only 42 days of comment period. The Los Angeles Bicycle Advisory Committee (LABAC) voted unanimously to call for an extension of the comment period to January 8, 2010. The Valley Alliance of Neighborhood Councils voted unanimously to call for an extension of the comment period.

Shortly after the release of the Draft Bike Plan, Dr. Alex Thompson presented the Cyclists' Bill of Rights to the NC Action Summit and called on the Neighborhood Council leaders to act quickly to declare the short comment period insufficient and prohibitive. NC's from Mar Vista to Silver Lake to East Hollywood to Mid City West to Woodland Hills-Warner Center all issued resolutions with the common theme, "the public needs more time!"

Perhaps the most robust and pointed resolution came from the CD11 Transportation Committee who took the 42 day comment period to be such a insult that they issued the following recommendations:

I. Recommendations to L.A. Bicycle Plan
1) The new L.A. Bicycle Plan should extend and enhance the 2007/2002/1996 Plan. Currently, it is a step backward from previous plans in both language and bicycle lane mileage.
2) The deadline for public input must be extended from November 6th (42 days of input) to January 8th (in excess of 90 days).
3) Every street is a street that cyclists will ride. This is the language of the Long Beach Bicycle Master Plan, currently a great success.
4) The L.A. Bicycle Plan should go through a full programmatic EIR. This will make its ambitions eligible for off the shelf and last minute funding, as well as open the possibility of reducing parking and travel lanes in some locations.
5) Retail should be a positive element in scoring streets for desirability of bikeways. Cyclists want to go to similar destinations as motorists.
6) Bicycle routes should be eliminated as a designation for the City of Los Angeles.
7) The L.A. Bicycle Plan should have predetermined annual performance measures included within it. These performance measures should not allow for the spontaneous designation of streets as Bike Friendly Streets without significant enhancement.
8) Neighborhood pilot projects must be included as an approach for experimenting with street treatments.

II. Recommendation to Change the Designation to a Different City Entity to Oversee the L.A. Bicycle Plan
Because the LADOT has shown a bias in favor of the movement of automobiles over the movement of pedestrians and cyclists, the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee therefore concludes that the LADOT is woefully inadequate to effectuate a new Bicycle Plan for the City of Los Angeles, and recommend the City designate a different entity to implement this important task, and to provide sufficient human and financial resources to do so.

From WestsideBikeside to BikeGirl to illuminateLA to the kids from FIRSTteamWestside to SoapBoxLA the community has responded clearly to the cavalier behavior of the LADOT and City Planning.

It's great to see the process work. Now, we can get busy creating a Bike Plan for the City of Los Angeles.

Here is the letter from Jane Blumenfeld:

Thank you for your interest in the update of the City of Los Angeles Bicycle Plan. We'd like to share with you information about the next steps so that you can continue to participate in the development of the Plan.

City staff will take comments on the draft Bicycle Plan (which can be read on line at until January 8th, 2010. After January 8th, staff will begin to prepare a revised Plan (including the maps) based on all of the input that has been received through the website, at workshops, in letters, e-mails, and on comment cards. We anticipate releasing a staff report and a revised Draft Bicycle Plan in February 2010 and giving all interested parties two months to review the revised plan. We will then hold 2 public hearings on behalf of the City Planning Commission (one in the Valley and one near downtown) to hear your comments on the revised Plan.

Following the 2 hearings, the City Planning Commission will hold a public meeting in the spring to act on the revised plan. Staff will provide the Commission with information about the comments made at the two public hearings and any additional proposed modifications based on input received.

Following the City Planning Commission's action, two City Council committees will act on the City Planning Commission's recommendation for the Bicycle Plan: the Planning and Land Use Management Committee (PLUM) and the Transportation Committee. Their recommendations will then be considered by the full City Council.

Please contact Jordann Turner at 213 978-1379 if you have any questions.

Jane Blumenfeld
Acting Deputy Director
Los Angeles Department of City Planning
213 978-1272

Friday, November 20, 2009

CityWatchLA - ‘Love Me if You Will; Hate Me if You Must; But for God’s Sake, Don’t Ignore Me’

CityWatch, Nov 20, 2009
Vol 7 Issue 95

The City of Los Angeles is the "Capital of Homelessness" and yet the non-profit groups who endeavor to create and operate Permanent Supportive Housing facilities are left to fend for themselves in communities that want solutions "anywhere but here" to a problem that is most often, simply ignored.

This past week the Gateways Hospital and Mental Health Center made another appearance at the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council, this time with modifications and adjustments to their proposed facility on the border of the East Hollywood and Silver Lake communities, all in an effort to pick up the approvals of the NC's as they work their way through the process of developing their property and opening a Permanent Supportive Housing facility. One would think that organizations committed to addressing and ending homelessness would be visiting Neighborhood Councils to pick up commendations for their humanitarian work but instead they regularly encounter the "Planning and Land Use" wrath typically reserved for developers who want to circumvent the Community Plan and rack up variances that disrupt the neighborhood.

In fact, based on Hollywood alone, it would seem that the Supportive Housing non-profits would have an easier time getting their projects off the ground if they would simply add a liquor license, incorporate a Medical Marijuana dispensary and wrap the building in Digital Billboards. Based on results, those projects would slide right through the process. But not if the word "homeless" is used.

Periodically, a Permanent Supportive Housing facility opens up to great fanfare and for a day or two it appears that Los Angeles is getting tough on homelessness.

But the brutal reality is: one out a hundred people in LA is homeless. The numbers fluctuate and progress is made but LA is still the "Capital of Homelessness."

Adding insult to injury is the fact that LA will not tolerate homeless cars yet homeless people are simply ignored. Unless they set up camp in their car and then it becomes a violation of the prohibition against living in a motor vehicle. (LAMC Section 85.02 states: "No person shall use a vehicle parked on or standing upon any City street or upon any parking lot owned by the City of Los Angeles or under control of the Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors as loving quarters either overnight, day-by-day, or otherwise.")

Desperate times call for desperate measures and Councilman Bill Rosendahl introduced a motion that would revise LAMC 85.02, allowing the City of LA to create "discrete and distinct" areas of the city where people would be allowed to park and sleep overnight.

Ideally these "areas" would be supported with restrooms, staffing, security, and social services.

Councilman Richard Alarcon referred to the concept as a "homeless shelter without walls" and the description seemed to earn the approval of Transportation Committee members Paul Koretz and Bernard Parks. As for the motion, it didn't enjoy the same support.

Rosendahl's motion is based on similar "homeless parking lots" conducted in other cities such as Eugene, Oregon and Santa Barbara.

Booker Pearson of Upward Bound House was standing by to offer his commitment to "hosting" the pilot project that was reduced from a citywide proposal to a CD11 proposal by the Transportation Committee.

The idea of setting aside public streets that are "open" to people who will live in their cars is certain to stir passionate and intense debate.

The very notion that parking lots will be used to "park" homeless people will definitely improve attendance at neighborhood council meetings as this proposal is certain to stir great discourse and debate.

Through it all, it's important to remember that doing nothing about homelessness costs more than aggressively acting to provide long-term comprehensive solutions.

As Los Angeles grapples with unemployment, foreclosures and a budget crisis that threatens the stability of the city, we have no choice but to act decisively to end homelessness now.

These are the times when leaders with vision are needed. Compassion would be a nice add to the mix, but courage and vision are essential. Anyone at City Hall care to step forward?

(Stephen Box is a transportation and cyclist advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at ) ◘

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Measure R Funding Followup - It Pays to Check the Math!

A City Watch article combined with 60 seconds of public comment resulted in an adjustment to the proposed Measure R Local Return budget, yielding a $7.3 Million increase in Bike/Ped funding.

At issue is the Mayor and the City Council's Transportation Committee's commitment to bike and pedestrian advocates that 10% of Measure R Local Return funds would be set-aside for Bike/Ped projects.

The 10% commitment had advocates celebrating but a check of the math revealed a small $7.3 million problem, the LADOT had calculated the 10% on net funds yielding $10.8 million over the next 5 years instead of on gross which would yield $18.1 million.

I wrote of the error for CityWatch but even my nearest and dearest pointed out that it was difficult to read at best. Apparently what mattered is that Councilman Alarcon's staff read it and they were engaged.

I showed up for Wednesday's Transportation Committee ready to debate the LADOT's spread sheet and to fight for the $7.3 million but the conference room on the 10th floor was dark. It turned out that the City Council was still in session, debating Medical Marijuana. The long delay gave me the opportunity to attempt to engage other bike/ped advocates in a discussion of the misleading math that made up the preferred Measure R Local Return budget and to prepare for public comment.

Public comment at City Hall is typically an exercise in futility that ranges in effectiveness somewhere between Pony Show theatrics to a cry for help. Because of the late hour we were given 60 seconds to make our case before the Transportation Committee, a tough window on any day, made tougher because I would be discussing a $181 million dollar budget gross and net calculations and unrelated funding for mega Transit projects.

I gave it 60 seconds of summary, the buzzer went off and I concluded to silence. Then, as I stood to leave, the City's Legislative Analyst said "You're right." I waited but that was it. I asked "So then you'll fix it?" It was that simple. "Yes."

It took a City Watch article to get their attention, it took a half day of milling about City Hall for 60 seconds of public comment and it resulted in $7.3 million in additional funding for bike/ped projects.

I'm convinced, more than ever, we must pay attention and we must stay engaged!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

CityWatchLA - Truth Getting Lost in the Measure R Feeding Frenzy

CityWatch, Nov 17, 2009
Vol 7 Issue 94

The Measure R feeding frenzy has just begun and LA's Department of Transportation has already created a cloud of confusion as it sets out to convince the City Council that when distributing $181.2 million in Local Return funds, the 10% Bike/Ped allocation amounts to $10.8 million. (Shouldn't it be $18.1 million?) The LADOT continues by referring to the Administrative Cost of $3.5 million as 2% (fair enough) and the Local Match set-aside of $73.4 million as 3% (not even close!) This bit of financial alchemy demonstrates the LADOT's knack for telling the truth, only the truth but not the whole truth.

At issue is the distribution of the Measure R Local Return funds which amount to 15% of the $30-40 billion that the Metro will collect over the next 30 years as a result of the half-percent sales tax increase that was approved by voters last year.

Relying on the Metro's revenue estimates, the City of Los Angeles anticipates collecting $181.2 million in Local Return funds over the next five years and is poised to approve a plan at Wednesday's Transportation Committee meeting that will lay down a budget for the funds that have been accruing since this past July.

During the contentious process that preceded the approval of Measure R, the 15% Local Return was conceived in response to the objections of the communities and constituent groups. They argued that Measure R would cost them money but yield them no specific returns.

By design, the 15% Local Return funds would empower locals with funds to support the projects that were not specifically included in the Measure R budget and long range transportation plan.

When the Measure R Ordinance was presented to the voters, Local Return projects were defined as "major street resurfacing, rehabilitation and reconstruction; pothole repair; left turn signals; bikeways; pedestrian improvement; streetscapes; signal synchronization; and transit" and it was to be distributed on a per capita basis.

Demonstrating a bookkeeping style that must be the envy of Hollywood Studios and Three Card Monte dealers alike, the LADOT and its Interdepartmental Committee (IDC) partners are proposing a budget that calculates on gross revenues when necessary to diminish (admin costs just 2% of gross,) on net proceeds in order to enhance (bike/ped funds are fully 10% of net,) and on unrelated figures in an effort to distract (3% local match is based on another budget!)

Most disturbing is that the IDC proposes to start the process of budgeting for the anticipated Local Return revenue by funneling 40.5% ($73.4 million) back to the Metro to satisfy LA's "3% local match contribution" to the Measure R "mega transit/rail projects" which include the Crenshaw Transit Corridor, Canoga Transit Line, and the Subway to the Sea Projects. (this is where "3%" actually amounts to 40.5%)

There are three significant problems with this the LADOT and IDC proposed budget:

First, the immediate and local transportation needs of LA communities should not have to compete with the "mega" projects of the region. The Local Return funding was established to prevent the project vs. project drama that is divisive to the community. The Local Return funds must be spent on Local Return projects, not siphoned off for "mega" match obligations.

Second, playing fast and loose with the percentages leaves naive bike/ped advocates lined up with their porridge bowls, thinking that when the LADOT promises 10%, it means 10%. It doesn't. It means 6%.

The only way to fix this is to take the $3.5 million in Administrative Costs and the $3.8 million in Council Office Discretionary Funds, and add them to the current $10.8 million bike/ped allocation. This totals $18.1 million, which amounts to 10% of the anticipated Local Return of $181.2 million over the next 5 years.

Third, this whole process demonstrates the real need for a Transportation Vision that commits Los Angeles to a robust and comprehensive transportation system, one based on equality and a commitment to creating real transportation choices for everybody. At the federal and the state level, the simple standard is to accommodate people of all modes all the time.

Yet in Los Angeles, cyclists compete with street furniture for funding, pedestrians compete with transit passengers, motorists compete with each other, council districts compete with their constituents, and city departments simply grab their budgets and hide.

The people of Los Angeles need to demand a real Transportation Vision, the LADOT needs to step away from the cash-box, and the bike/ped advocates need to count their change before they leave the window.

(Stephen Box is a transportation advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at ◘

Monday, November 16, 2009

Assemblyman Eng Wants to Park Your Car!

California State Assemblyman Mike Eng of the 49th District is the Chair of the State Assembly Transportation Committee which oversees the work of the state Office of Traffic Safety, the High Speed Rail Authority, and the Departments of Transportation, Motor Vehicles, California Highway Patrol and Air Resources. He also serves on the California Transportation Commission.

Apparently he is unaware of the congestion issues, air pollution issues, safety issues and simple access issues that many in the LA County area encounter on a daily basis. If he was, he would give up on the promise of "free parking" when promoting his community events such as his Legislative Town Hall at USC on Wednesday evening which comes complete with the promise "Parking is free of charge at USC, just simply tell them you are attending the town hall."

If Assemblyman Eng wants to make a real impact on the future of transportation in Los Angeles, he'll offer pedestrian, bicycling and mass transit directions to his event. If he really wanted to make an impact, his invitations will come with the promise "the Metro is free of charge, just simply tell them you are attending Assemblyman Mike Eng's Town Hall."

How is it that the most powerful people in town can negotiate free parking to their events but they can't get Metro passes? Why do they validate for parking but never reimburse for mass transit?

The world as we know it will change when we demand that those in power get out of their cars and walk, ride a bike or take mass transit to the events that they host in our communities.

Assemblyman Eng, let's ride!

For more information on Mike Eng's Town Hall.

To urge Mike Eng to embrace the future of transportation, call Annie Lam of Assemblymember Eng’s Office at (916) 319-2049 or e-mail her at

But most of all, if you really want to make a difference, get out of your car and embrace the future of transportation by walking, riding a bike or taking mass transit.

Btw. here is how you can get to USC without a car:

Metro Red Line 7th and Fig. Get to street level to 7th and Flower, take the bus 81, 381, or 442 from there to Jefferson & Fig.

Other bus stops for USC:
204 & 754 stop at Jefferson & Vermont

102 & 550 stops at Exposition & Vermont

38 stops at Hoover & Jefferson

From either of these stops you can walk onto the campus.

To plan your metro ride, visit

To plan your bike ride, visit

You can also ride your bike, there is plenty of bike parking all over the campus.

Friday, November 13, 2009

CityWatchLA - City Hall Red Tape Trumps Citizen’s Green Vision

CityWatch, Nov 13, 2009
Vol 7 Issue 93

A local merchant's idealistic efforts to implement an electric car-share program in densely populated Hollywood has hit speed bump after speed bump, leaving him low on funds, high on frustration and ready to pull the plug on his dreams.

Four months ago, Bechir Blagui rented a storefront office on Hollywood Boulevard, across the street from an auto body shop, another auto body shop, an empty lot and a liquor store. His goal was to host a car-share program for locals and tourists alike, providing electric "community" cars that could be rented by the hour or for the day. He intended to support this vision with an electric charging station right on Hollywood Boulevard that would allow his patrons as well as others in the community to pull right up, charge up and take off, leaving no emissions behind.

Bechir's idealistic journey to nowhere started with a visit to City Councilmember Tom LaBonge's office where he received referrals, several of them. He was referred to the local office of the LADOT and after a site visit, the local LADOT engineer referred him to another department within the LADOT. After all, parking spaces are one thing, parking meters are another! He filled out forms and offered a letter of support from his landlord and from the neighboring businesses on the block. His request was finalized and the long period of silence began, one that continues to this day.

LaBonge's Department of Referrals also sent Bechir across Hollywood Boulevard to City Council President Eric Garcetti's office. After all, Garcetti had just introduced a motion to City Council saying "the City should take action to help accelerate the adoption of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV), battery electric vehicles (BEV), and other zero emissions vehicles in Los Angeles..." Bechir spoke to Garcetti's Deputy who referred him to the Transportation Deputy and another long period of silence began, one that continues to this day.

Hollywood Rent-a-Car is located in LaBonge's district but apparently the commitment to making LA the Greenest Big City is a commitment that belongs to Mayor Villaraigosa and so when push came to shove, LaBonge's staff suggested that Bechir would be better served taking his vision of sustainable transportation to the Mayor's office if he wanted help getting a loading zone and a charging station, all in support of a locally owned and operated business that provides a congestion relief solution to the community. After all, an economic solution, an environmental solution, a congestion solution, a transportation solution, all rolled into one business on Hollywood Boulevard is not the kind of thing a Councilman would waste time on.

Bechir's business plan is based on a simple car-share concept that has proven successful in several different formats, most impressively in the Bay Area where members of CityCarShare pay a membership fee, which allows them to enjoy access to a car without having to own, maintain, register, insure, and store a vehicle. Since most vehicles spend 95% of their life parked, waiting to be driven, the most immediate benefit of a car-share program is to the local community because the need for abundant parking is reduced significantly. This was the benefit that drove Bechir's commitment to include a car-share element to his business. After all, it's Hollywood, long on dreams, short on parking!

There are many car-share programs operating around the world, from ZipCar to Connect to WeCar to FlexCar and Bechir set out to add an element of environmental sustainability by featuring electric cars and a charging station that would also be available to the public. Good for the community, good for the neighbors, good for the customers, good for business. Or so he thought.

Somehow, LA's high-altitude approach to becoming the "Greenest Big City" has failed to reach street level and Bechir found himself standing alone on Hollywood Boulevard, wondering what it was going to take to bring an electric car-share program to Hollywood Boulevard. He wasn't alone for long.

Dave Kaufmann of EnVironmental Motors joined Bechir and is ready to put electric community cars to work in Hollywood saying "The future of EV cars is here and they are now competitive in speed, distance, price and safety."

Enid Joffe of Clean Fuel Connection also joined Bechir and is ready to install a charging station on Hollywood Boulevard saying "Hollywood is the center of the world and this is where people demonstrate the art of the possible. There's a tide coming and Hollywood Boulevard is the perfect place for LA's first electric car-share program."

Missing from this Green Vision is the City of Los Angeles.

One would think that the Mayor's vision for a sustainable future would result in our City's leadership embracing the individuals who choose to be a part of the solution.

One would think that instead of waiting for pie-in-the-sky solutions that will take decades to arrive, Los Angeles would embrace the small steps of individuals that add up to the large leaps of progress for a Great City.

But most of all, one would think that in this time of economic crisis, the City of LA would get out of the "anywhere-but-here" referral business and would embrace the future of "let's-make-it-happen" as the first steps of a long journey to establish Los Angeles as a Great City. Perhaps even a Great Green City!

(Stephen Box is a transportation and cyclist advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at ) ◘

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

CityWatchLA - Two Tales of Cyclists Down and the Uneven Hand of Justice

CityWatch, Nov 10, 2009
Vol 7 Issue 92

Last year, on July 4th, Dr. Christopher Thompson drove his car down Mandeville Canyon and came up behind two cyclists, pulled alongside and exchanged words then pulled in front and slammed on the brakes, seriously injuring both cyclists and telling the police officer who first arrived at the scene that he did it "to teach them a lesson."

That same week, as Paul Moore rode his bike south on Bundy Drive, a motorist approached him from behind, overtook him and then turned right, slamming him to the ground.

Unlike Christian Stoehr and Ron Peterson, the cyclists in Mandeville Canyon, Paul didn't get up. In fact, before the day was over, surgeons would remove a section of his skull, storing it in a refrigerator for later reattachment, all in an effort to alleviate the cranial swelling and bleeding. That evening Paul slipped into a medically-induced coma that allowed his brain to rest and recover.

By Monday morning, news of the Mandeville Canyon incident had spread and by early afternoon, LA City Councilman Bill Rosendahl stood before the press and proclaimed "Cyclists need a Bill of Rights!"

Concerns that the case would be handled as a traffic collision instead of a criminal act were cleared up by the LAPD's Captain Eaton who flanked Councilman Rosendahl and assured the public that this was a road rage incident that would be investigated as a felony criminal assault. This show of force went a long way toward reassuring the cycling community that justice would be pursued.

As for Paul, he slipped into the pool of anonymity that comes with being one of 550 LA Fire Department medical transports that occur each day in the City of Los Angeles. Of those 550 transports, approximately 100 of them are the result of a traffic collision and they include motorists, pedestrians and cyclists. Paul was just one of many.

The public clamored for more information on the Mandeville Canyon incident, the press responded with radio, television and newspaper coverage. The blogs were filled with activity and comment sections had to be shut down because of the intense debate and personal animosity that took place.

Meanwhile, Paul's wife worked quietly to investigate the circumstances that left her husband lying on the street with multiple broken bones and a left frontal lobe injury that resulted in Aphasia which is the inability to form words.

It took two days for Rosendahl and Eaton to step up to the microphone and to address the Mandeville Canyon incident. It was eight days before Paul's wife received the Police Report in the mail with information on Paul's collision.

The report detailed the location, the motorist and the cyclist. There wasn't much else there except that Paul's bicycle had been transported to the Fire Station. It's curious that the bike wasn't considered evidence but, of course, that would imply an investigation.

Paul's wife went to Fire Station #59 and found Paul's bike with very little damage. One of the firemen looked in the log, found the incident number, and said the team who responded to the accident was not working, except for the Captain who was out on a call.

Paul's wife left and called Capt. Cessor, introducing herself and asked about Paul and the traffic collision. She asked if Paul was conscious when the LAFD arrived at the scene but Cessor responded "Can't answer that. Can't answer anything medical due to confidentiality."

Questions about who called 911, what happened to Paul's helmet, which corner the collision occurred on yielded a response that was completely discouraging.

Cessor informed Paul's wife "I don't know where your questions are going, so I'm going to refer you to the Arson Unit as they are the legal experts." She passed over the phone number for the Arson Unit adding "They probably wouldn't have any information about this accident."

By now, Rosendahl was calling for a Cyclists' Town Hall to address the issues that cyclists encounter as they ride the streets of Los Angeles. He went on to convene the Mandeville Task Force that would look for ways to mitigate tensions between cyclists and motorists. He continued all the way to the Transportation Committee and then the City Council where he urged his fellow Councilmembers to incorporate the Cyclists' Bill of Rights into the city's Bicycle Plan.

Paul's family spent the same period of time struggling to navigate the medical system and the insurance labyrinth and the emotional journey, celebrating the fluttering of eyelids and the twitches and grimaces that they counted as the signs of Paul's recovery.

Paul left UCLA and went to the Barlow Respiratory Hospital and then back to UCLA and then out to Casa Colina in Pomona. Through it all, his family was by his side, playing music, talking to him, struggling to communicate and to encourage and to maintain hope through the recovery process.

Periodically there would be some activity in the Mandeville Canyon case and members of the cycling community would hold vigil at the LAX Courthouse, hoping against hope that justice would be served and reporting back on the developments.

As for Paul, justice was limited to battles his family and his doctors fought with the insurance company's grievances and appeals representatives, quite a tough position for the victim of a crime.

Apparently, when Rosendahl told the world "Cyclists need a Bill of Rights!" it didn't include Paul Moore, a cyclist whose life was ruined by a motorist who "right-hooked" him in violation of CVC 21750 which specifies that “the driver of a vehicle overtaking another vehicle or a bicycle proceeding in the same direction shall pass to the left at a safe distance without interfering with the safe operation of the overtaken vehicle or bicycle…”

The Cyclists' Bill of Rights claims, as right #4, "Cyclists have the right to the full support of our judicial system and the right to expect that those who endanger, injure or kill cyclists be dealt with to the full extent of the law."

This past week, the cycling community threw a virtual Twittertape parade when the jury in the Mandeville Canyon trial came back with a guilty verdict on all seven charges for Thompson including Assault with a Deadly Weapon and Mayhem. Thompson was considered a flight risk, denied bail, remanded into custody where he awaits sentencing.

Unfortunately, there are many more cases out there, including the motorist charged with the hit-and-run death of a cyclist on PCH, the motorist charged with the hit-and-run death of a cyclist on Glendale Boulevard, and the motorist charged with the hit-and-run death of a cyclist in Santa Clarita.

Add to the mix the motorists who are charged with hit-and-run assaults on cyclists on the Westside and in Echo Park and Downtown and the Mandeville Canyon case starts to look like the exception, not the rule.

Most alarming is the simple fact that Paul Moore's life was destroyed by a motorist who right-hooked him just 1500 yards from Bill Rosendahl's Westside office and Paul never made it past dispatch statistic for the LAFD team that transported him to UCLA. He spent 6 months in the hospital, he lost the ability to move and to talk and his family was left to struggle with his recovery and with the surgeries and with the seizures and the financial struggles and the insurance battles, and in the midst of all of the debates over equality and justice, Paul was completely forgotten.

"What about Paul?"

(Stephen Box is a transportation and cyclist advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at

Friday, November 06, 2009

CityWatchLA - Kids Challenge LA Leadership

CityWatch, Nov 6, 2009
Vol 7 Issue 91

Anyone who has made the journey to City Hall to offer public comment knows how frustrating and unfulfilling the experience can be. It's a "damned if you do and damned if you don't" situation for members of the public who attempt to navigate the cumbersome system that appears designed to service everyone except the serfs who dare to approach the sovereigns.

The recent round of Bike Plan (draft) Workshops has proven to be as frustrating and insulting as any of the "public enragement" exercises the City of LA typically hosts.

Guests to the four LADOT/Planning sponsored events were given the opportunity to walk around in a circle, looking at sections of the 563 page plan in three ring binders, viewing sample pages on poster board on easels, and scanning large map sections of the city.

This superficial overview of a complex element of the City's Transportation element of the General Plan came complete with snacks and the opportunity to offer feedback to the staff and consultants who then made note of the comment. At least they were supposed to take notes.

One attendee came prepared with a formal comment from her organization only to experience a consultant who attempted to "fix" her feedback, suggesting that she was wrong.

Critics of the Bike Plan Workshops note that in a city of four million people, there must be a more effective mechanism for communicating the details of a cumbersome document. There must be more effective tool for examining maps and there must be a more effective way to engage the public and allow a robust conversation to take place.

Participants have pointed out that the "view and comment" process prevents people from discussing, sharing, engaging and learning.

Through it all is the simple charge that a 42 day comment period seems designed to simply "qualify" as public engagement but that it fails to offer the public the opportunity to actually review the Bike Plan (draft) and engage the community and the neighborhood councils in time to offer intelligent and informed opinions.

As the grumbling continues and with the official comment period ending on November 6th, a group of kids from the Westside has risen to the occasion with a solution that gives hope for the future.

The FIRSTteamWestside (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is a group of kids who prepared a presentation that they intended to give at the Bike Plan (draft) workshops.

Their mission was to develop a plan to improve local transportation. They did the research and they prepared and they discovered that the public workshops were not the robust public arena they desired so they adapted.

Their coach reports “The kids were hoping to give a presentation at one of the "public forums" but were badly disappointed when they found out that members of the public would not be allowed to speak so they posted it on YouTube and submitted the link at”

They also inspired and they challenged and they raised the standard for civic engagement. Oh, yeah! They made some good points too!

This feedback and presentation to the City of Los Angeles Bike Plan is one of the ways the team has shared its research project with experts, policy makers and the general public.

Unfortunately, the City of Los Angeles doesn't trust its staff with access to YouTube!

(Stephen Box is a transportation and cyclist advocate … and, writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at

Monday, November 02, 2009

CityWatchLA - LA’s DIY Bike Plan

CityWatch, Nov 3, 2009
Vol 7 Issue 90

The City of Los Angeles took another swing at the public hornet's nest when it released LA's Draft Bike Plan, a 563 page document that cost $450,000 and took two years to complete, stirring such public contempt that the cycling community simply put down the protest signs, formed the LA Bike Working Group (BWG) and set out to draft "LA's Best Bike Plan" in open workshops around the city.

The first challenge to the efficacy of LA's commitment to mediocrity came when appeared, hosting the same Draft Bike Plan as the city's website and the same opportunity to submit comments to the city, but also offering links to articles that criticize the Draft Bike Plan process and content.

The second challenge came when cyclists met in Hollywood to dig into the city's Draft Bike Plan, breaking it up into manageable chunks, a process made necessary by the significant size and the limited comment period of 42 days. (It ends on November 6, 2009)

It took a couple of hours but there came a point at which it became obvious, the best place to start is at the beginning and for the Bike Plan, that meant a do-over, this time a DIY (Do It Yourself) do-over!

The third and most recent challenge came when cyclists met downtown this past weekend to refine the many contributions from the diverse group of participants into a focused vision that would serve as the foundation for LA's Best Bike Plan.

Embracing a democratic and participatory process, the work product of four groups was refined into 23 points which were simmered down to a foundation of three that serve as the platform for LA's Best Bike Plan.

1) "Consider every street as a street that cyclists will ride."

2) "Build a Backbone Bikeway Network as the engineering focus in the immediate future."

3) "Los Angeles must commit to the implementation of key measures within 2 years."

In the time it took the staff of City Planning and the Department of Transportation to organize its out-of-town consultants and to stage the four Draft Bike Plan workshops, the LA Bike Working Group had gathered input from the community, established teams with specific focus, and positioned a platform based on equality.

This may seem like a "Bike Culture" victory that benefits the few but it represents much, much more and it benefits the city as a whole.

City staff dismiss critics as "trashtalkers" and argue for mediocrity by pointing out that "not everybody is an angry cyclist." This demonstrates the cavalier manner in which our city is (mis)managed. As Laura Chick pointed out "If you're not angry, you're not paying attention."

Today it's the Bike Plan, tomorrow it's your Community Plan, last week it was Cloud Computing, next week it'll be Golden Parachutes. The bottom line is this, the leadership of Los Angeles is counting on our indifference to maintain the status quo and to avoid accountability.

Whether you ride a bike or walk or take mass transit or ride in a car, we all benefit from citywide support of cycling as a transportation solution, as an environmental solution, and as a community building solution.

Great Streets are well maintained, they're shareable, they have moderate traffic volumes and speeds, they result in lower crime rates, and they benefit local businesses, resulting in healthy, sustainable and complete communities.

If you believe that Los Angeles should be a Great City, it is imperative that you join with other constituent groups such as the cycling community and support their pursuit of greatness. After all, this is Los Angeles, why settle for anything less!

This isn't the first time that the DIY movement has been active in Los Angeles. Past efforts have resulted in Sharrows (shared-lane markings) in Echo Park and in Highland Park, a DIY Bike Lane on the Fletcher Bridge and a community park at Wilshire and Vermont.

In other cities, the Official Urban Repair Squad (OURS) has taken to improving the streets of Toronto, leaving behind a Bike Lane in their first engagement and a note saying "Our agents inform us that your city is too busy patting self on backside about 2001 bike plan that they don't bother to make any bike lanes. We come to make roads safe for citizens of Toronto. We hear city is broke. We fix. No charge."

Residents of Hawaii's Kauai island reacted to the government's $4 million and two-year long plan for the repair of a vital road as unacceptable and so they fixed it themselves in eight days for free. Their livelihood was threatened, their intelligence was insulted and their spirit of self-sufficiency was engaged.

As for LA's Draft Bike Plan, the apologists stand in the background and murmur "it's not that bad" and "there's some good stuff in there" and the cloud of mediocrity just gets thicker.

LA's Bike Plan is part of the Transportation Element of the city's General Plan and the current Bike Plan was drafted in 1996, readopted by City Council in 2002 and again in 2007.

Many funding sources, from both the federal and state levels, require that proposed bike projects be part of a City Council approved Bicycle Transportation Plan.

This enthusiasm for plans is motivated by the desire to qualify for funding and then the enthusiasm fades. The current Bike Plan is effective until December of 2012.

In the last 13 years, LA has spent $65 million of Bikeways funding which has produced 13 miles of Bike Paths (one mile per year!) 54 miles of Bike Lanes (four miles per year!) and one mile of Bike Route (136 yards per year!)

Critics charge that the money has also funded the LADOT's Bikeways Department of a dozen people who are best known for their "Why You Can't Have What You Want" PowerPoint presentation which positions cyclists as adversaries with other modes rather than as a "Common Ground" transportation solution.

As for next steps, the bureaucrats are off in search of rubber stamps while the LA Bike Working Group continues to work on "LA's Best Bike Plan."

(Stephen Box is a transportation and cyclist advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at ◘


● “Bikes and Cars: Can We Share the Road?” – LA Times LINK .